Ayten Gundogdu

Associate Professor of Political Science

Political Theory

Ayten Gündoğdu is the Tow Associate Professor for Distinguished Scholars in the Department of Political Science at Barnard College. Her research addresses problems related to human rights, migration, sovereignty, and personhood by drawing on the resources of modern and contemporary European political theory, the political thought of Hannah Arendt, critical human rights studies, and international political and legal theory.

Professor Gündoğdu's research has been shaped by two main goals: First, understanding how universalistic discourses of rights can leave some subjects (e.g., asylum-seekers) in a vulnerable condition with very tenuous guarantees for fundamental rights (e.g., the right to be free from indefinite detention); and second, rethinking key political concepts such as human rights, sovereignty, territoriality, and personhood in light of the struggles waged by these subjects at the margins of law and politics.

These goals are reflected in Professor Gündoğdu’s book, Rightlessness in an Age of Rights (Oxford University Press, 2015), which offers a critical inquiry of human rights by engaging with the works of twentieth-century political theorist Hannah Arendt and by examining the contemporary rights struggles of asylum-seekers, refugees, and undocumented immigrants. The book presents new readings of Arendt’s key concepts (e.g., “the social,” “the right to have rights”) by rethinking them within the context of immigration detention, deportation, refugee camps, and struggles for regularization.

Professor Gündoğdu’s current research revolves around the concept of “personhood”—the status assigned by law to rights-bearing entities. The divisions, hierarchies, and exclusions that continue to mark even the universalistic conceptions of personhood are at the center of her new book-length project on deaths resulting from increasingly lethal border control policies. Grappling with the regime of impunity in the case of migrant deaths, this project examines who gets to be recognized as a person equal before the law, how that recognition is tied to certain assumptions about sovereignty, jurisdiction, rights, and humanness, and how those assumptions render certain lives disposable and certain deaths unaccounted for.

Professor Gündoğdu is the recipient of several awards and grants, including the Tow Professorship for Distinguished Scholars (2019-21), Heyman Center Fellowship from Columbia University (2018-19), Mellon Mid-Career Fellowship from the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University (2017-18), and a postdoctoral fellowship from the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University (2011-12).



  • Rightlessness in an Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants (Oxford University Press, 2015) Link
    • International Studies Association-Northeast, Yale H. Ferguson Award, 2016.
    • International Studies Association, Theory Section, Book Award Competition, Honorable Mention, 2015.
    • Included in the list of Choice “Outstanding Academic Titles” (January 2016). 

Articles and Book Chapters

  • “Borders of Human Rights: Territorial Sovereignty and the Precarious Personhood of Migrants.” In Critical Perspectives on Human Rights, ed. Birgit Schippers (Rowman & Littlefield, forthcoming).
  • “On the Ambivalent Politics of Human Rights,” Journal of International Political Theory (forthcoming; October 2018). (Access online)
  • “Disagreeing with Rancière: Speech, Violence, and the Ambiguous Subjects of Politics,” Polity, vol. 49, no. 2 (April 2017): 188–219 (Access online). 
  • “A Revolution in Rights: Reflections on the Democratic Invention of the Rights of Man,” Law, Culture and the Humanities, vol. 10, no. 3 (October 2014): 367-379 (Access online)
  • “Statelessness and the Right to Have Rights.” In Hannah Arendt: Key Concepts, ed. Patrick Hayden (Acumen Publishing, 2014) Link
  • “Potentialities of Human Rights: Agamben and the Narrative of Fated Necessity,” Contemporary Political Theory, vol. 11, no. 1 (February 2012): 2-22 (Access online)
    • For a longer version, see: “Potentialities of Second Nature: Agamben on Human Rights.” In Second Nature: Rethinking the Natural Through Politics, ed. Lida Maxwell, Laura Ephraim, and Crina Archer (Fordham University Press, 2013), pp. 104-126. Link
  • ‘Perplexities of the Rights of Man’: Arendt on the Aporias of Human Rights,European Journal of Political Theory, vol. 11, no. 1 (January 2012): 4-24 (Access online)
    • Reprinted in The Aporia of Rights: Explorations in Citizenship in the Era of Human Rights, ed. Anna Yeatman and Peg Birmingham (Bloomsbury, 2014) Link
  • “Arendt on Culture and Imperialism: Response to Klausen,” Political Theory, vol. 39, no. 5 (October 2011): 661-667 (Access online)
  • [Co-authored with Raymond D. Duvall and Kartik Raj] “Borders, Power and Resistance: Bounding and Challenging Europe." In Europe and Its Boundaries, ed. Andrew Davison and Himadeep Muppidi (Lexington Books, 2009), pp. 225-241. Link
Academic Focus: 
  • Human rights and humanitarianism
  • Political theory of Hannah Arendt
  • Politics and ethics of migration
  • International political and legal thought
  • Modern, contemporary, and continental political theory
  • Democratic theory and theories of citizenship

You can find selected syllabi on-line.

  • POLS UN 1101 Political Theory
  • POLS BC 3410 Colloquium on Human Rights in a Diverse World (Cross-listed by the Human Rights Program, Barnard College)
  • POLS BC 3435 Colloquium on Law and Violence
  • POLS BC 3761 Senior Research Seminar in Political Theory
  • FYSB BC 1289 First-Year Seminar: Violence and Justice
  • POLS W 3002 Human Rights and Immigration
  • POLS UN 4150 Crisis and Critique: The Frankfurt School (Cross-listed by the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University)
Presentations / Recent Lectures: 
  • “The Pariahs of Humanity: Arendt and the Challenges of Modern Equality.” Conference on “Arendt and Antisemitism,” Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism. Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut, November 1-2, 2018).
  • “Amidst the Ruins of Personhood: Border Deaths and the Challenges of Representation in Law and Art.” Symposium on “Border Elegies: Refugees, Migrants, and Contemporary Art and Literature,” Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee, October 25-26, 2018).
  • “Forced Disappearances: Critical Phenomenology at the Borders of Law and Politics.” Association for Political Theory, Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges (Haverford and Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, October 18-20, 2018).
  • “Borders of Personhood: Migration, Human Rights, and Sovereignty.” Public Lecture, Lecture Series: Legal Critique as Social Theory. Freie Universität (Berlin, Germany, June 5, 2018).
  •  “Territorial Sovereignty and the Precarious Personhood of Migrants.” CEDPIR (Centro de Estudos em Política e Direito de Imigração e Refúgio), Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa (FCRB) (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 12 and 14, 2017).
  • “‘The Living Space of Freedom:’ Arendt on Law and Power.” Conference on the Critical Edition of Hannah Arendt’s Work, “Hannah Arendt’s ‘Modern Challenge to Tradition,’” Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee, November 2-4, 2017).
  • “The Nonhuman Condition: Arendt’s Phenomenology of Living Beings.” American Political Science Association (San Francisco, California, August 31-September 3, 2017). 

Updated on January, 2015 by Anne Wolff-Lawson



Tel 212.854.4036

Office Hours: 

Milstein 1102

Tuesday, 16:15-18:15



Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Twin Cities


B.A., Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey

Related Web Sites: